How Do You Eat Yours?

From the Telegraph, on a food theme within Twilight:

What struck me most in the first book was the way that Edward – being an immortal vampire who feasts on blood – doesn’t eat any normal food. Meanwhile, he constantly encourages the heroine, Bella Swan, to eat and drink. This is the opposite of the experience of most teenage girls – and indeed many older women – who feel that they must eat sparingly, particularly in public, while they watch boys give free rein to their appetites.

On their first proper date, after Edward has thrillingly rescued Bella from a gang of attackers, he takes her to an Italian restaurant. ‘I’m not hungry,’ she says, shrugging. But he insists in a low voice, ‘full of authority’, that, ‘You should eat something.’ He watches her intently as she eats a plate of mushroom ravioli. He also encourages her to drink two full glasses of (non-diet) Coke. ‘”Drink,” he ordered.’ Bella sips ‘obediently’.
Throughout Twilight we see beautiful Edward worrying whether Bella has had enough food. In the school cafeteria he surveys the food and begs her to ‘take whatever you want’. All the while he eats nothing, hungry only for Bella.

For too many teenage girls this is a heady sort of wish fulfilment. One of the many aches of those years of hormones and exams is the gender gap that opens up around food. Suddenly, girls have curves and boys don’t. Boys – particularly the massive sports-playing kind – are praised for their manly appetites and encouraged to wolf down vast platefuls of carbs. Girls, meanwhile, unless they are unusually strong-minded and sane, start policing each other’s food intake. Are you really going to have that cake? OMG, do you know how many calories there are in a frappuccino?

A quick aside – I never realised he was a vegetarian vampire like this guy.

Ignoring generalisations – because this is the internet after all – I think discovering such matters within a text is interesting. Food and sexuality are both, at heart, activities of the senses. (A friend of mine once had this theory, which probably wasn’t their own, that if you wanted to know what someone was like in bed, then you should first watch how they ate a meal.) To see these notions linked in literature, which is very good at describing such sensual matters, and even connecting them, probably shouldn’t surprise me.

I wonder how apparent this is in other books, especially those with a heavy romance strand running through the text? Is there a trend in the romance genres, and is it even intentional, or something that spills out, as it were? Lots of ice cream being licked seductively? I confess I’ve not got the chops to really speak about that genre with any authority, and I’d love to know what someone else thought. And I wonder how much it is all, consciously or otherwise, connected to the notion of fantasy being wish fulfilment.

I’m trying to think of any other authors who I’ve read, who seem absolutely fascinated by food in their books, though without the suggestiveness. You know the ones – endless details of banquets, or in Robert Jordan’s case, drinking tea. I remember the one Robin Hobb book I read got a little herby at the start, but my memory is failing me now so I can’t remember the rest.

This is usually something that the writer does not realise, until someone points it out to them long after they can do anything about it, and for the most part it’s not linked thematically. But I love these little quirks that leak through, betraying some minor obsession.

Watch out for my next book, which will features strawberries, onions and prize-winning marrows from my garden.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. Fantastically interesting and not something I’ve considered before now yet now that I have, I realise you are right.

    The obvious choices would be things like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen and of course, Alice Hoffman’s novel (on which the movie is based) Practical Magic. Also Brian Jacques Redwall books are packed full of foodie feasts as is Donna Leon’s books that star Inspector Brunetti. And obviously, but not lastly, but any means – the Harry Potter books are all full of magic and feasts.

  2. But surely the themes and symbolism depends on the work? Yes, sometimes saying a character isn’t hungry is some coded subtext on sexual yearning, and sometimes they just don’t like strawberries.

    I think such themes come from the subconscious and as such the author is unaware of a lot of them at the time of writing. It’s only in revision (or maybe after the work is published) that these get noticed

  3. Dan Abnett’s books are full of food and drink, but almost no sex. I wonder if he’s sublimating?

  4. I’ve never considered it. It’s interesting though.

    I don’t think I’ve ever linked food (in my mind) to sex, though that said, I’m happy to eat mince every night. Curried mince, savory mince, rissoles, spag bowl, burgers, etc etc.

    Lol, very tempted to attempt a seductive scene involving rissoles.

  5. That’s so funny- My closes group of friends always say the same thing about the way of eating and sex 😛

    Very interesting post- I’ve always been aware that I always leak something of me and my “obsessions” on my writing; it makes me feel very self-conscious.

  6. Admittedly not a novel, but The Sopranos is stuffed with food symbolism. The characters are always serving meals for each other and taking gifts of food round to each other’s homes – there’s a whole extra web of exchange, reciprocity, emotion and, yes, sexual tension (when your wife starts cooking little treats for other men who visit you, watch out…) going on which is completely non verbal. It’s like trying to keep track of the poses in The Long Price Quartet.

    Although, that’s cooking, and you’re talking more about ingredients…

  7. I just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suazanne Collins, and it is loaded with lavish descriptions of food. The main character, another teenage girl, relishes food. She also spends a good chunk of her time verging on starvation, which makes the elaborate descriptions of food feel right for the book. I never thought of it as a veiled sexual reference, but could be. It’s another YA novel, so romance isn’t acted on very much. Perhaps that explains the lavish food in Twilight too, even if it is done unintentionally. It keeps the sensual tame enough to work for a YA audience.

  8. LE Modesitt’s books have a lot of food in, and that works well as a way to emphasize economic and logistics issues.

    KJ Parker’s books all do something similar in patches, but it comes up very prominently in The Company, again as a resource management issue as much as anything.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books often use it as a way of emphasizing otherness, or memory.

  9. Jennifer Crusie often uses food as a metaphor for the development of a relationship in her novels. In “Bet Me”, a man seduces a somewhat overweight woman through food and helps her to accept her body and herself. At the climax, there even is a sex scene involving food. Meanwhile, the female protagonist of “Agnes and the Hitman” writes a cooking column and again food plays a big role in the novel.

    There are also a number of cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths who cook or bake. Often the books even include recipes.

  10. Re; Robin Hobb, in the Assassin trilogy I seem to recall food being used as an occasional metaphor for masculinity. Either not quite sure or not wanting to linger on the ambience of a room full of soldiers, she makes do with describing the stodgy, plain fare that Fitz digs into, wolfing (groan) it down in massive portions when we first meet him.

    In fact, food comes back again and again as an indicator of strength, or vitality – the Skill-weakened Verity is enolivened by a batch of the cook’s spiced cakes; the Skill-master Galen weakens his pupils by denying them anything but the most basic fare.

    And yeah, herb lore features highly in his education. Very, very highly. Well remembered!

  11. As you’ve noted before, entire oceans of tea and small standing armies of toast, are consumed in John Cowper Powys’ novels.

    Then there are the fairy fruit in Lud-in-the-Mist which I’ve always thought of serving as a metaphor for both magic and a more general, amorous free-spirited wildness, the hellish kitchens of Swelter (marginal I know) in Gormenghast where food and carnival and menace intermix and make me think a bit of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, and moving away from food/sex – the fantastic central role that beer plays in Tim Power’s wonderful The Drawing of the Dark.

    On that latter note, can anyone recommend any fantasy books (I know other, non-genre books are awash in this aplenty) where drink, wine, or similar “spirits” are celebrated, used, or form an important or even fetishized treatment?